Katie van Scherpenberg Brazilian, b. 1940


With a career spanning more than 50 years, Katie van Scherpenberg has developed a very singular, original and consistent body of works in which art and life are inextricably intertwined. Her formative years were spent between Brazil and Europe, completing her studies in England, and a two-year scholarship granted by the German government in 1961-63 that allowed her to study painting in Munich with Georg Brenninger (1909-1988) and in Salzburg with Oskar Kokoshcka (1816-1986).


Van Scherpenberg returned to Rio de Janeiro in 1964 - one week after the military coup that installed a dictatorial regime that would remain in power for the next two decades. During this period she worked alongside artists and intellectuals who vehemently opposed the dictatorship and produced her only openly political series titled The Executives (1976). In these equally satirical and monstrous portraits, van Scherpenberg manages to brilliantly encapsulate the political climate of that time.


A few years later, she settled with her father in the remote Amazonian island of Santana. Here on an island by one of the worlds most magnificent rivers, van Scherpenberg spent most of the next 17 years. The absolute lack of professional art materials drove her to research ways to make natural pigments from soil. Speaking about this period her life, the artist recounted: ‘You could say that the river was, among other things, so much paint, for it contained a large quantity of pigments (ferrous oxides) from faraway places, and together with this paint it brought me a whole lot of information. In this sense, the river is somewhat like a painting…A river is like life, it is never stable, by its very nature - particularly the Amazon.


The 1980s marked the expansion of van Scherpenbergs paintings into outdoor spaces. These ephemeral interventions on the landscape - or landscape paintings, as the artist calls them - consisted of the use of different types of pigments on beaches, gardens, and rivers. Works like Esperando Papai [Waiting for daddy] (2004), Jardim Vermelho [Red Garden] (1986) and Furo (2001) are works which meditate on geography, ancestry and memory across the artists life. Across van Scherpenberg's work, art and life are inseparable and few artists in Brazil have engaged so profoundly with the pursuit of knowledge through painting as her.


Van Scherpenberg’s work is highly relevant to contemporary audiences. Her series, The Executives (1976), resonates strongly with the current political situation in Brazil. In 2020, in the midst of Covid-19 lockdowns and restrictions, Jair Bolsonaro went as far as to join, and encourage, protesters who were demanding a return to dictatorship. Furthermore, the Brazilian president has become infamous for his total unwillingness to prevent the mass deforestation and destruction of the Amazon rainforest. Van Scherpenberg lived in the Amazon Delta for many years and these surroundings became vital to her work as a source of inspiration, material and colour. Having moved around a lot as a child, van Scherpenberg found a home in the Amazon; her engagement with natural elements and pigments from the land and river helped her to overcome a sense of rootlessness. By incorporating the physical environment in her practice, the artist became more connected to the land on which she lived.


Katie van Scherpenberg won the Jury Exemption at the Modern Art National Salon in 1976.  During this time her works were purchased by several major art collections in Brazil such as the Gilberto Chateaubriand at the Museum of Modern Art of Rio de Janeiro. The artist's work is held in a number of significant collection in Brazil such as the Museum of Modern Art of Rio de Janeiro, the Museum of Contemporary Art of Brasília and National Museum of Fine arts, Rio de Janeiro, as well as in collections internationally such as Blanton Museum of Art, Austin, Texas; Royal collection of Sweden, Stockholm; and the University of Essex Collection of Latin American Art, UK. VanScherpenberg’s work has been shown in group exhibitions such as Contemporary Art in the Collections of Rio”, Museum of Modern Art, Rio de Janeiro (2005), and Sin Título at the Blanton Museum of Art, Austin, Texas 2006.  She has also exhibited her work in solo shows, including Feuerbach and I in a Landscape”- Museum of Contemporary Art of Niterói in 2000 and Waiting for Daddy”- Mercedes Viegas Arte Contemporânea, Rio de Janeiro in 2005.